Friday, March 7, 2014

The Spiritual Significance of Gender: A husband and wife's conversation

Six years ago, my wife and I were discussing the gospel on Sunday afternoon and the topic of gender came up. We talked about what our thoughts on gender roles are, what strength that can bring to a relationship, and how the roles can be abused. This lead itself to a discussion on some of the most frequent misconceptions about the priesthood we've heard--either inside or outside the LDS church. They boiled down to four categories:
  1. Men need the priesthood to be as righteous as women
  2. A women shouldn't want the priesthood and should be glad to have men handle it for her
  3. Women should have the priesthood in the same way that men do
  4. Childbearing and nurturing are a "woman's priesthood"

Wanting to understand why, if at all, these are in fact misconceptions as we felt, we decided to explore each of these ideas. The following are some of the results of our conversation. And yes, depending on who you are, our Sunday afternoons are either very mentally stimulating or absolutely boring.

Misconception 1: Men need the priesthood to be as righteous as women

Contrary to some modern ideals, the scriptures teach that either sex is incomplete, imperfect, and will fall short of its highest potential without the other. Rather than a competition or battle between the sexes, a pathway of partnership is described:

Nevertheless neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord.

For as the woman is of the man, even so is the man also by the woman; but all things of God.

1 Cor. 11:11–12

In the celestial glory there are three heavens or degrees;

And in order to obtain the highest, a man must enter into this order of the priesthood [meaning the new and everlasting covenant of marriage];

And if he does not, he cannot obtain it.

He may enter into the other, but that is the end of his kingdom; he cannot have an increase.

D&C 131:1–4
(note that [] is in original text)

For behold, I reveal unto you a new and an everlasting covenant; and if ye abide not that covenant, then are ye damned; for no one can reject this covenant and be permitted to enter into my glory.

For all who will have a blessing at my hands shall abide the law which was appointed for that blessing, and the conditions thereof, as were instituted from before the foundation of the world.

And as pertaining to the new and everlasting covenant, it was instituted for the fulness of my glory; and he that receiveth a fulness thereof must and shall abide the law, or he shall be damned, saith the Lord God.

D&C 132:4–6

Speaking on the New and Everlasting Covenant of Marriage, Spencer W. Kimball said:

This is the word of the Lord. It is very, very serious, and there is nobody who should argue with the Lord. He made the earth; he made the people. He knows the conditions. He set the program, and we are not intelligent enough or smart enough to be able to argue him out of these important things. He knows what is right and true.

--Spencer W. Kimball, Marriage and Divorce: An Address [Salt Lake City: Desert Book Co., 1976], 30

The main point here is that either sex will be damned, meaning falling short of their fullest potential, without entering the New and Everlasting Covenant of Marriage with the other. It's important to point out that a man or woman can still be exalted and return to God's presence without entering into the covenant with the other sex. But that what's being said above is that even within that exaltation there's a limitation (a damning) that prevents receipt of the the fullness of God's glory.

Furthermore, the concept that a certain individual is inherently inferior to another goes against fundamental principles of the gospel. There is no room for misogyny or misandry in God's plan.

For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit.

For the body is not one member, but many.

1 Cor. 12:13–14
(note the context of Gifts of the Spirit and unity in Christ)

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.

And if ye be Christ's, then are ye Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise.

Gal. 3:28–29
(note allusion to Abrahamic covenant which includes New and Everlasting Covenant)

And have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him:

Where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free: but Christ is all, and in all.

Col. 3:10–11

For none of these iniquities come of the Lord; for he doeth that which is good among the children of men; and he doeth nothing save it be plain unto the children of men; and he inviteth them all to come unto him and partake of his goodness; and he denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; and he remembereth the heathen; and all are alike unto God, both Jew and Gentile.

2 Ne. 26:33

Misconception 2: A women shouldn't want the priesthood and should be glad to have men handle it for her

While it is true that offices and callings of the church should not be sought after for worldly status, shying away from blessings the Lord wishes to bestow upon us is self-damning. Women are promised 'all' that God has and the New and Everlasting Covenant of Marriage is what allows women to enjoy the fullness of blessings the priesthood has to offer in this life. Should women seek the priesthood for their own? No. God, for whatever reason, has entrusted priesthood keys in this life to men and through the New and Everlasting Covenant of Marriage has provided a means whereby women can, should, and must, enjoy the blessings of the priesthood through unity with their spouse.

As for the exact state between the sexes in the life hereafter, we simply don't have the details. But I take God at His word that 'all' that He has will be given to those who are exhaled. I don't think the word 'all' is merely an exaggeration. This life is a period of training/trails/tests and we only see in part. We only have an incomplete picture here in this life. We are here, in mortality, out of God's presence, in this moment in time, in this dispensation, on this planet, etc. So we have only a shadow of God's will, not the whole picture. We have to trust and have faith that the shadow God reveals is for our benefit and will lead us to a more complete picture in His due time--whatever that might be.

Misconception 3: Women should have the priesthood in the same way that men do

This is the old confusion of 'oneness' = 'sameness'. God designates distinct rights, authority, and responsibilities in order to avoid confusion and to require unity between His children in order for them to enjoy the fullness of His blessings (see 1 Cor. 12). The fact that one person has different rights, authority, or responsibilities does not diminish the rights, authority, or responsibilities of another. Rather, it is only through the unity of faith, hope, and charity that all rights, authorities, and responsibilities are enjoyed by all through one another. It is interesting that charity both fulfills the law in that it ensures one always lives according to God's will while at the same time it is also the virtue through which we are able to enjoy and share the blessings of others and ultimately all that God has. Charity fulfills the law on a personal level but is also the means through which all of God's blessings are both received and bestowed. It is of no surprise then that only through perfect charity between couples in the New and Everlasting Covenant of marriage are they able to enjoy perfectly, and with unity, the blessings each of the other has. The alternative is to see the differences in others as a threat. That one's gifts somehow diminish me. To let pride and fear take root in our world-view.

Holy Trinity, fresco by Luca Rossetti da Orta
An example of this at the highest level is the Godhead. Does the fact that Christ (the Son) alone  performed the atonement (see Matthew 27:6) diminish God the Father or the Holy Ghost in any way? No. Why? Because Christ is one with God and every gift, power, blessing, and authority Christ has obtained through performing the atonement is fully enjoyed by both God the Father and the Holy Ghost through Him. It is the perfect unity of purpose exercised by the Godhead that allows each full access to the gifts, powers, blessings, and authorities of the other. Another example of this is the fact that the blessings of the atonement are enjoyed by us through the Holy Ghost. Does this fact diminish Christ in any way? No. Instead, Christ uses His authority and power gained by performing the atonement and blesses mankind through the Holy Ghost. Conversely, does the fact that the Holy Ghost is the only member of the Godhead without a tangible body diminish Him in His role? No. Actually, the fact that the Holy Ghost has no physical body enables him to permeate space all at once and become a conduit through which God the Father and Christ can bless mankind (see D&C 130:22). This is possible because the Holy Ghost is one with God and equally shares all of His gifts, powers, blessings, and authorities with the other members of the Godhead in perfect unity. Similarly, God the Father, rather than hoarding His gifts, powers, blessings, and authorities and using them to assert status, instead seeks to share them with His children either directly or through others. This is what is meant when Christ commanded that we should be one even as He and His Father are one (see John 17:21–24). Note that in Christ's intercessory prayer, that He several times mentions that it is through this unity that those who believe in Him may enjoy the blessings of the gospel.

This same focus on unity as the means of enjoying all of God's blessings is woven into the oath and covenant of the priesthood itself:

For whoso is faithful unto the obtaining these two priesthoods of which I have spoken, and the magnifying their calling, are sanctified by the Spirit unto the renewing of their bodies.

They become the sons of Moses and of Aaron and the seed of Abraham, and the church and kingdom, and the elect of God.

And also all they who receive this priesthood receive me, saith the Lord;

For he that receiveth my servants receiveth me;

And he that receiveth me receiveth my Father;

And he that receiveth my Father receiveth my Father's kingdom; therefore all that my Father hath shall be given unto him.

And this is according to the oath and covenant which belongeth to the priesthood.

Therefore, all those who receive the priesthood, receive this oath and covenant of my Father, which he cannot break, neither can it be moved.

But whoso breaketh this covenant after he hath received it, and altogether turneth therefrom, shall not have forgiveness of sins in this world nor in the world to come.

D&C 84:33–41

In fact, the idea that in order for there to be oneness or perfect unity everyone must be the same is a satanic idea as it presupposes that such unity between different individuals is impossible when the Godhead and the words of the prophets teach otherwise. It also rejects the individuality God has bestowed upon us through agency and has so carefully guarded at great cost. This could have been part of what the war in Heaven was fought over. Christ and His followers fought to maintain individuality and agency with unity coming through the Atonement, priesthood, and chrarity and Satan and his followers fought to remove individuality and agency seeing unity as incompatible with them because of fear, hate, and pride. Knowing this, it brings into perspective why we must share our gifts, talents, and blessings with others in perfect unity of faith and how if we fail to do so, we will never be able to establish the Kingdom of God on Earth.

Misconception 4: Childbearing and nurturing is the "women's priesthood"

Childbearing is a unique gift that women enjoy on a higher level then men. And just like the the priesthood is designed by God to bless all mankind (men and women), the miracle of creating human life is designed to bring man and woman together in greater unit. Calling this 'priesthood' dilutes the meaning of both priesthood and childbirth and is just as misleading as saying the priesthood is "childbearing for men". Again, this is the fallacy of mandatory sameness. Just as women must be blessed with the priesthood in order to be exalted (which they cannot do alone), men must be blessed with partnership increasing posterity (which they also cannot do alone). God has carefully structured His plan such that unity and charity with the other sex brings the fullness of His gifts.

Sheri L. Dew, in her wonderful October 2001 General Conference talk "It Is Not Good for Man or Woman to Be Alone", explained it this way:

Satan understands the power of men and women united in righteousness. He is still stinging from his banishment into eternal exile after Michael led the hosts of heaven, comprised of valiant men and women united in the cause of Christ, against him. In the chilling words of Peter, “The devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour.” Lucifer is determined to devour marriages and families, because their demise threatens the salvation of all involved and the vitality of the Lord’s kingdom itself. Thus, Satan seeks to confuse us about our stewardships and distinctive natures as men and women. He bombards us with bizarre messages about gender, marriage, family, and all male-female relationships. He would have us believe men and women are so alike that our unique gifts are not necessary, or so different we can never hope to understand each other. Neither is true.

We must either learn to live together in unity or all fail together in pride. The New and Everlasting Covenant of Marriage truly is an essential and equally beneficial exalting covenant!

In a recent speech, Sheri L. Dew directly addressed the issue of women not having the priesthood in the LDS church:

From a BYU Women's Conference talk titled "Becoming Bone of Bone and Flesh of Flesh", Eugene England states that our current earthly assignments are mortal schoolmasters and as we progress towards perfect love and charity we will transcend these distinctions:

I believe that the Melchizedek Priesthood and bearing the bodies of mortal children are simply assignments made for mortality. This does not mean the two are equivalent: certainly priesthood should not replace the nurturing duties of fatherhood nor does bearing children replace the spiritual gifts, including healing, nor the administrative gifts and duties given to women. But I believe priesthood and child-bearing are alike in providing, if we let them, similar opportunities to learn charity, to love and serve unconditionally. If we learn those lessons, we will pass beyond Melchizedek Priesthood and physical motherhood to a higher state of more perfect equality. That higher state, promised in the eternal marriage covenant, is called becoming kings and queens, priests and priestesses unto the most high God. Fatherhood and motherhood are equivalent right now in their intrinsic responsibilities. (President Lee said to both men and women that the most important work we will ever do is within the walls of our own home "and President McKay said to us both that no success could compensate for failure there.) The roles of man and woman are absolutely equivalent in their intrinsic joys and opportunities to learn the greatest joy--and the ground of our salvation--which is that pure love of Christ.

The Family: A Proclamation to the World

In September 23, 1995 "The Family - A Proclamation to the World" was read by Gordon B. Hinckley in the General Relief Society Meeting. It expounds on the LDS doctrinal view of the roles of men and women in God's plan. In it, it states:
All human beings—male and female—are created in the image of God. Each is a beloved spirit son or daughter of heavenly parents, and, as such, each has a divine nature and destiny. Gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose.
This and the doctrines described above can, at times, be at odds with world-views that people have. But just as Mormons hope that their beliefs are respected, so too should they seek to love and respect others even (and especially) with different world-views. Rather than attempt to use this proclamation as a way to argue or exclude, which undercuts the thread of charity woven through these doctrines, I feel the challenge is for Mormons to find the compassionate interpretations. To understand and uphold the doctrine, to find the compassionate application that will lead to better unity and charity, and to see the "divine nature and destiny" in all of God's children.

We believe in being honest, true, chaste, benevolent, virtuous, and in doing good to all men; indeed, we may say that we follow the admonition of Paul-We believe all things, we hope all things, we have endured many things, and hope to be able to endure all things. If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things.

Article of Faith 13

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Lessons on leaders, wildfires, trust, and jumping into the burn.

A couple of stories were brought to my attention yesterday, which highlight important lessons on inspired leaders, crisis, and trust.

The Mann Gulch Fire

In August 1949, lightning struck a slope above the Missouri river in the Gates of the Mountains Wilderness in a place called Mann Gulch. It started a fire that would go down in history.

Trusting your church leaders
SmokeJumpers 1948
Soon after the fire started, a team of 15 smokejumpers - a profession then only 9 years old - parachuted into the Wilderness and joined with another young firefighter already on the ground to begin working on containing the blaze.

From the beginning, the circumstances seemed particularly challenging.

Trouble starts

The team and their equipment were scattered widely due to the conditions of the air currents and layout of the land. The radio was destroyed. The single firefighter already on the scene, a 20 year old named James Harrison, had been fighting the fire alone for 4 hours, and was getting tired.

With the fire on the south side of the Gulch, the foreman, 33 year old R. Wagner Dodge, instructed the team to walk along the north side of the gulch to get in a better position to steer the fire into less flammable areas.

The firefighters, all between the ages of 17 and 28, got spread out. Dodge was bringing up the rear with Harrison when he saw the smoke at the front of the fire begin to boil up - a sure sign that the wind had changed and the fire was intensifying.  He hurried to try and catch his men.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Testimony and Gratitude

In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I wanted to share a story from my life about gratitude and how it changed my life during one of the times of my life when I was at my least thankful.

We have all experienced times when our testimonies felt weak or inadequate. Usually we find ourselves saying “How can I get to where I was? How can I find my faith again?” I propose to illustrate how the principle of gratitude can help us build our testimonies. To do this I will mostly rely on a single story from my mission.

There are three steps I want to point out to building your testimony with gratitude, which you will see in this story.

1. Choosing to believe blessings come from God,

2. Choosing to give credit to God,

3. Choosing to act on the blessings God presents you with.

Choosing to believe blessings come from God.

There was a moment, about 5 months into my mission, where everything changed. It was the moment when I went from being an unwilling, unhappy missionary to a happy, and successful missionary.

This is the story of when it “clicked” for me. It is probably the key point in my mission, if not my life, and you’ll notice that it all hinges on gratitude.

When I first arrived on the island of Taiwan, my mission president asked me “what sort of companion do you want to have?”

Knowing how incredibly lazy I am, and wanting to be the best missionary I could be, I answered immediately with “one who works hard.”

President listened.

Man, did he listen.

I was blessed with a hard working trainer. But the phrase “hard working” doesn’t quite encompass the intensity of this great missionary. He was driven. He was a maniac. I’ll try to explain just how much this guy loved working.

Most evenings we would spend our time knocking on every door we could find. Companion knew that it took about X minutes to get home on bike, so when we reached X minutes until curfew, he’d knock two or three more doors, till the time was X minus 1 minute. We would then have to jump on our bikes and pedal our brains out to try and make it home before our 9:30 curfew.

I hadn’t ridden a bike in years, so usually he would get ahead of me and I would get frustrated that he wouldn’t wait up.

He’d say “Can’t wait! We’ll be late! Push harder!”

I’d say “I can’t!”

He’d say “Where’s your faith, elder?!”

Then I’d pedal harder so I could try and punch him in the face...

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

The Power of Covenants

I love studying the gospel as much as I do the world/universe around us. As I've studied and encountered different world views that are sometimes pitted against each other, I've seen people lose faith in God when they feel they've discovered irreconcilable differences.
I'm not going to go into the philosophical reasons why that doesn't have to be the case (though those are interesting as well). Instead, I'm going to just point out and testify that when we suppose to have found a ideological discord we must remember to back up for a minute and focus on covenants.
Covenants Make Us Free to have Faith

I think we can take a cue from Nephi in how he treated the covenants he made with God:

5 And also my soul delighteth in the covenants of the Lord which he hath made to our fathers; yea, my soul delighteth in his grace, and in his justice, and power, and mercy in the great and eternal plan of deliverance from death.2 Nephi 11:5

I love that phrase, "delighting in covenants". Notice the train of thought here. Nephi is saying that by appreciating and celebrating his covenants that he is able to gain faith in grace, justice, power, mercy, and the atonement. Nephi sees his covenants as a source of his faith in those things. And I think that is a powerful reminder that we should seek to better understand our covenants and the faith that they enable. 

Covenants Make Us Free from Dogmatism

Far too often, we allow ourselves to get bogged down in secular or religious dogma. The problem with a dogmatic approach to religion is that it dehumanizes it and turns it instead into merely a set of intellectual or philosophical ascents. Now, philosophy and intellect are important, but not at the expense of this faith in Christ born out of making and keeping covenants with Him. The power of religion, especially Christian religions, is that we can have a human relationship here and now with God.

54 Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day.

John 6:54
Notice what is said here. Those who "hear my word", "believe in him that sent me", "eat of my flesh", and "drink my blood", those people have eternal life right here and now. Faith in Jesus Christ is active; not some yet-to-be unrealized wishful or intellectual thinking. Christ promises us an eternal relationship here and now. And He does so through covenants.

So when this, that, or some other dogma or philosophy comes up, I try to understand it from the context of my covenants.  
  • Have I covenanted to believe a particular thing about the age of the earth or the detailed biology of life? Nope. 
  • Have I covenanted to have a myopic view of native American history? Nope.
  • Have I covenanted to have particular political viewpoints? Nope.
  • Have I covenanted to literally interpret all of scripture? Nope.
  • Etc. etc. etc.

The problem with this perspective, again, is that it tries to anesthetize covenants by making them merely beliefs or ideologies. Covenants aren't a promise to think something. Covenants are promises to act. 

  • Have I covenanted to not partake in alcohol/tobacco? Yes.
  • Have I covenanted to avoid any/all pre/extra-marital sex? Yes.
  • Have I covenanted to regularly attend church? Yes.
  • Have I covenanted to serve others? Yes.
  • Have I covenanted to continually repent? Yes.
  • Have I covenanted to love and forgive others? Yes.
  • Have I covenanted to pay an honest tithe? Yes.
  • Etc. etc. etc.

When we see our faith merely as abstract ideologies we empty the life from our testimony and faith. Christ taught in His mortal ministry that knowledge and testimony of His gospel is to be found in action, not dogma:

17 If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself.

John 7:17

Covenants Free Us to Meet God

King Benjamin put it best when he praised the covenant his people made with God:

7 And now, because of the covenant which ye have made ye shall be called the children of Christ, his sons, and his daughters; for behold, this day he hath spiritually begotten you; for ye say that your hearts are changed through faith on his name; therefore, ye are born of him and have become his sons and his daughters.

8 And under this head ye are made free, and there is no other head whereby ye can be made free. There is no other name given whereby salvation cometh; therefore, I would that ye should take upon you the name of Christ, all you that have entered into the covenant with God that ye should be obedient unto the end of your lives.

9 And it shall come to pass that whosoever doeth this shall be found at the right hand of God, for he shall know the name by which he is called; for he shall be called by the name of Christ.
Mosiah 5:7-9

So, as I go about my studies in various topics and encounter people with different world-views, I don't let supposed ideological discords overrun the power of my covenants. And while "the glory of God is intelligence" (D&C 93:36), we cannot forget that the source of testimony is not merely dogma, but instead faith and a covenant life.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

The Holy Ghost and Ohm's Law

In 1899 James E. Talmage, a renowned chemist in England and America and apostle in the LDS church, wrote a book titled 'The Articles of Faith' analyzing the doctrines laid out by Joseph Smith in a letter he wrote titled by the same name. Despite its age, it remains today one of the seminal works discussing Mormon Theology. From the section titled "The Holy Ghost", Talmage writes:

James E. Talmage (1862-1933)
Subtler, mightier, and more mysterious than any or all of the physical forces of nature are the powers that operate upon conscious organisms, the means by which the mind, the heart, the soul of man may be energized by spiritual forces. In our ignorance of the true nature of electricity we may speak of it as a fluid; and so by analogy the forces through which the mind is governed have been called spiritual fluids. The true nature of these manifestations of energy is unknown to us, for the elements of comparison and analogy, so necessary to our human reasoning, are wanting; nevertheless the effects are experienced by all. As the conducting medium in an electric circuit is capable of conveying but a limited current, the maximum capacity depending upon the resistance offered by the conductor, and, as separate circuits of different degrees of conductivity may carry currents of widely varying intensity, so human souls are of varied capacity with respect to the higher powers. But as the medium is purified, as obstructions are removed, so resistance to the energy decreases, and the forces manifest themselves with greater intensity. By analogous processes of purification our spirits may be made more susceptible to the forces of life, which are emanations from the Holy Spirit. Therefore are we taught to pray by word and action for a constantly increasing portion of the Spirit, that is, the power of the Spirit, which is a measure of this gift of God unto us.

Talmage is drawing an analogy from Ohm's law which was widely accepted by the scientific community some 50 years before Talmage had this insight. Having studied the physics covering electromagnetism myself, this idea brought back many memories of working through simple circuit diagrams with voltage, intensity, and resistance. The relationship between these three values is expressed in Ohm's law:

Here, the intensity of current in a circuit (measured in amps) is equal to the voltage (electrical potential) of a power source divided by the resistance of the medium through which that current flows. The greater the voltage the greater the current. However, the greater the resistance the less current. By analyzing this equation and see what insights it gives drawing from Elder Talmage's analogy above, much can be learned.

In the Book of Mormon Alma chapter 30 gives an account of a trail between the high priest, Alma, and Korihor who had been accused of blaspheme. After Korihor insists that a sign must be given before anyone should exercise faith, Alma responds:

Behold, I am grieved because of the hardness of your heart, yea, that ye will still resist the spirit of the truth, that thy soul may be destroyed.

Alma 30:46

Sometime later, Alma - in preaching to the poor and rejected class of the Zoramites - makes a wonderful analogy between the word of God and a seed. Here, he also uses the word 'resist' when speaking of wickedness and hardheartedness (possibly referring to his previous encounter with Korihor):

Now, we will compare the word unto a seed. Now, if ye give place, that a seed may be planted in your heart, behold, if it be a true seed, or a good seed, if ye do not cast it out by your unbelief, that ye will resist the Spirit of the Lord, behold, it will begin to swell within your breasts; and when you feel these swelling motions, ye will begin to say within yourselves—It must needs be that this is a good seed, or that the word is good, for it beginneth to enlarge my soul; yea, it beginneth to enlighten my understanding, yea, it beginneth to be delicious to me.

Alma 30:28

In modern times, Christ - speaking to Lyman Sherman through Joseph Smith - in December 26, 1835 -  spoke similarly:

... resist no more my voice.

D&C 108:2

In basic circuits, to which this analogy relates to, the voltage is constant. That constant voltage relates to God and his power which is described as "... the same yesterday today and forever..." (1 Ne. 10:18). God's power is always there, available to anyone, and it's potential is unchanging.

Given the voltage is constant, the resistance becomes the determining factor for the intensity in the circuit. Likewise, as God's power is constant, unchanging, and is always extended towards each one of His children, our will compared to His becomes the determining factor of the efficacy of that power flowing through our lives. Again from the above Talmage quote:

.... as the medium is purified, as obstructions are removed, so resistance to the energy decreases, and the forces manifest themselves with greater intensity.

So, what is the resistance that is required to allow God's power to more fully flow through us? It, surprisingly, is not zero given the equations above. If a resistance of zero, or analogously an empty will, is introduced to the equation impossible or undefined results are found. Such is life without free will or with an empty will (see 2 Ne. 2:11-13). Could this begin to describe the situation where Satan sought to deny the power of God and place Himself above it by destroying the agency of man (see Moses 4:3)?

So, if having zero resistance introduces problems in the equation and the analogy then what should "R" ideally be? To answer the question it helps to rearrainge Ohms law.

What would "R" have to equal in order for "V" and "I" to equal each other?" The resistance would have to be 1. While trying to avoid taking the analogy too far, the notion of "one" has great implications in the gospel and appears throughout it. The term "one" appears frequently in scriptures to indicate harmony, alignment, equality, and unity. The Lord has said:

... I say unto you, be one; and if ye are not one ye are not mine.

D&C 38:27

It is especially prominent in the Lord's Intercessory Prayer:

20 Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word;

21 That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.

22 And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one:

23 I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me.

Knowing and understand this, it becomes quite clear that the only way the power of God will flow through us is if we choose to become one--harmonizing and aligning our desires and actions with the will of God. Only when this oneness is achieved will the power of God flow through us unobstructed. Nephi (the second) achieved, to some degree, this oneness. Nephi, pondering upon the wickedness of the people at the time, heard the voice of the Lord saying:

4 Blessed art thou, Nephi, for ... thou hast ... sought my will, and to keep my commandments.

5 And now, because thou hast done this with such unwearyingness, behold, I will bless thee forever; and I will make thee mighty in word and in deed, in faith and in works; yea, even that all things shall be done unto thee according to thy word, for thou shalt not ask that which is contrary to my will.

Helaman 10:4-5

Through God's blessing, Nephi's righteousness and unity lead to receiving great power from heaven. And we too can be given power as we align our will with the will of God. The means through which this power is given is through the Holy Ghost, but it is activated through the gift of the atonement. It is of no coincidence that the word "atonement", influenced by the Latin word adunamentum meaning 'unity', came from an older verb "onement" meaning "to unite" or "make one".

This is how we harness and utilize the gift of the Holy Ghost. As a gift and blessing, it is predicated upon obedience (D&C 130:20-21; D&C 132:5). And it is only when our will becomes one with the will of God, through the atonement of Christ, that we may be blessed with His eternal power.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Degrees of Glory

In section 76 of the Doctrine and Covenants, the Lord uses a metaphor to compare the differences in glory between his kingdom.

D&C 76: Vision of degrees of glory
70 These are they whose bodies are celestial, whose glory is that of the sun, even the glory of God, the highest of all, whose glory the sun of the firmament is written of as being typical.

 71 And again, we saw the terrestrial world, and behold and lo, these are they who are of the terrestrial, whose glory differs from that of the church of the Firstborn who have received the fulness of the Father, even as that of the moon differs from the sun in the firmament.

 81 And again, we saw the glory of the telestial, which glory is that of the lesser, even as the glory of the stars differs from that of the glory of the moon in the firmament.

D&C 76:70-71, 81

The Celestial kingdom's “glory is that of the sun” (v70), the Terrestrial kingdom's “glory differs... even as that of the moon differs from the sun” (v71), and the Telestial kingdom's glory is “even as the glory of the stars differs from that of the glory of the moon” (v81).

What is generally interpreted by this mapping of the Lord's kingdoms to objects we observe in the sky is that 1) The power and glory of the Celestial kingdom is infinite and 2) God's other kingdoms will have a wide range of types of people in them and that the idea of one universal heaven and one universal hell is a false dichotomy. There is a third very powerful lesson that can be learned with a little help from astronomy.

Normon Pogson
In the 19th century, during the 1830s, it was discovered that the eye detects light intensity logarithmically rather than linearly. This combined with the need to have a universal way to measure and compare the intensity of light from objects observed in the sky lead the astronomer Norman Pogson to propose, as a starting point for a light intensity scale, that a star that has a magnitude equal to 1 is 100 times brighter than a star of magnitude 6. This lead to the standard that a difference in 1 magnitude translates to 2.512 times in brightness or intensity.

Since then, astronomers have charted the brightness of objects they observe in the sky. An interesting fact emerges when one looks at these charts and calculates the difference in brightness between the sun, moon, and stars.

On this scale, the sun has a magnitude value of -26.74. The moon has a magnitude value of -12.74. Therefore the difference in brightness between the sun and the moon is 2.51214, which is a factor of 398,359. Put another way, the sun is 398,359 times brighter than the moon.

Following this method of calculation, the following results can be determined for different kinds of objects in the sky:

Object Magnitude Scale
Full moon -12.74 Sun is 394,359 times brighter
Sirius (brightest star) -1.46 Sun is ~12.95 billion times brighter
Faintest observable by human 8 Sun is ~78.82 trillion times brighter
Faintest observable (natural light) 36 Sun is ~12.51 septillion times brighter (1.25 x 1025)

Abraham was promised, “I will multiply thee, and thy seed... and if thou canst count the number of sands, so shall be the number of thy seeds” (Abr. 3:14). In Doctrine and Covenants 76 verse 109 it says, “we saw the glory of the inhabitants of the telestial world, that they were as innumerable as the stars in the firmament of heaven, or as the sand upon the seashore.”

Globular cluster Messier 56
It is interesting to note that rough calculations of things such as the number of grains of sand on earth or the number of stars in the universe are estimated in the 1018 to 1022 range, close to this same septillion scale. The same scale involved in those metaphors is the same scale involved in the metaphor of the sun, moon, and stars. These numbers are so large that they begin to blur the line between the quantifiable and the infinite.

But what does all this mean? While numbers and estimates are interesting and informative, we should avoid getting too caught up in the exactness of them since our mortal view of the universe will always be imperfect. The Lord prefaces this by rhetorically asking, "Unto what shall I liken these kingdoms, that ye may understand?", so this metaphor is only to relate something beyond our understanding into something that we have some understanding about. The overarching lesson to be learned from this is that our Heavenly Father's plan is literally large enough for each and every one of His unique children. His plan is infinitely diverse to fit his infinitely diverse creations. What we can learn is that when someone says, “Your Heavenly Father has a plan for you.” they're not just saying something trite or platitudinous. The scale, scope, diversity, and glory of Heavenly Father's kingdoms are literally large enough for all.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Charity and the Destiny of Man

I've been thinking a lot about charity recently, why the scriptures place so much emphasis on it, and how we can better live it in our lives. The following are some of my thoughts as I've tried to dig at this principle.

In the Book of Mormon, Ether chapter 12 talks about charity:

28 Behold, I will show unto the Gentiles their weakness, and I will show unto them that faith, hope and charity bringeth unto me—the fountain of all righteousness.

33 And again, I remember that thou hast said that thou hast loved the world, even unto the laying down of thy life for the world, that thou mightest take it again to prepare a place for the children of men.

34 And now I know that this love which thou hast had for the children of men is charity; wherefore, except men shall have charity they cannot inherit that place which thou hast prepared in the mansions of thy Father.

It makes me think of some of the insights from the Parable of The Good Samaritan:

Here, a Samaritan helps a Jew left for dead on a road between Jericho and Jerusalem. This parable is a wonderful story illustrating the power of our shared humanity. But there's a deeper lesson when we look at the historical context around the Jewish and Samaritan nations at the time of Jesus.

The history between the Samaritans and Jews is fascinatingly tragic, and we can learn a lot about the intent of Christ's parable by understanding that. Some highlights:

  • The separation of Samaritans and Jews went back more than 700 years by the time of Christ. These tensions and differences were very much woven into the fabric of each other's race, culture, religion, and even their genes. The conflict can even be attributed back further to the sons of Israel.
  • The Jews and Samaritans make conflicting claims of ancestry, priesthood authority, scripture, land rights, and temple worship. There's lots more to read about that here.
  • Less than 200 years before Christ, probably still very fresh in the minds of the Jews and Samaritans, Antiochus IV Epiphanes decided to establish a universal religion with the penalty for resistance being death. Facing certain genocide, the Samaritans aligned themselves with Antiochus requiring cutting any relationship with the Jews in the south. Naturally feeling betrayed, the Jews viewed the Samaritans as traitors, heathens, and heretics. 
  • About 100 years before Christ, the Jewish ruler John Hyrcanus waged war on the Samaritan kingdom eventually conquering them, destroying their temple, and treating them as slaves since they weren't considered true worshipers of Jehovah.

Needless to say, these weren't just neighbors who didn't get along, this was a deep, deep, rooted hatred and distain for each other that had attached itself to the very identity many had of what it was to be a Jew or Samaritan at that time. It must have pained Jesus, who was the covenant God of the Old Testament, to see this rift of hate between the children of Israel. So it's important to acknowledge that Christ choosing to make a Samaritan the protagonist of this parable wasn't a random thought, but instead a divine call for those hearing it to see past what society sees as insurmountable or unfathomable differences and conflicts and instead choose to see each other as our fellow man and children of God.

Martin Luther King gave this insight on this parable (ironically and tragically) just 1 day before his assassination in his "I've Been to the Mountaintop" speech:

I remember when Mrs. King and I were first in Jerusalem. We rented a car and drove from Jerusalem down to Jericho. And as soon as we got on that road I said to my wife, "I can see why Jesus used this as the setting for his parable." It's a winding, meandering road. It's really conducive for ambushing. You start out in Jerusalem... above sea level. And by the time you get down to Jericho fifteen or twenty minutes later, you're... below sea level. That's a dangerous road. In the days of Jesus it came to be known as the "Bloody Pass." And you know, it's possible that the priest and the Levite looked over that man on the ground and wondered if the robbers were still around. Or it's possible that they felt that the man on the ground was merely faking, and he was acting like he had been robbed and hurt in order to seize them over there, lure them there for quick and easy seizure. And so the first question that the priest asked, the first question that the Levite asked was, "If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?"

But then the Good Samaritan came by, and he reversed the question: "If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?" 

I absolutely love this insight here because it gets at the essence of charity. That charity fundamentally changes our nature and perspective.

The Charter For Compassion is an organization dedicated to the idea of restoring compassion as the root of worship and ethics. Their charter uses the imagery that compassion leads us to dethrone ourselves and place another there:

The principle of compassion lies at the heart of all religious, ethical and spiritual traditions, calling us always to treat all others as we wish to be treated ourselves. Compassion impels us to work tirelessly to alleviate the suffering of our fellow creatures, to dethrone ourselves from the centre of our world and put another there, and to honour the inviolable sanctity of every single human being, treating everybody, without exception, with absolute justice, equity and respect.

President Monson elaborated on the essence of charity and its need in this world in a General Relief Society broadcast in 2010:

There is a serious need for the charity that gives attention to those who are unnoticed, hope to those who are discouraged, aid to those who are afflicted. True charity is love in action. The need for charity is everywhere.

Needed is the charity which refuses to find satisfaction in hearing or in repeating the reports of misfortunes that come to others, unless by so doing, the unfortunate one may be benefited. The American educator and politician Horace Mann once said, “To pity distress is but human; to relieve it is godlike.”

Charity is having patience with someone who has let us down. It is resisting the impulse to become offended easily. It is accepting weaknesses and shortcomings. It is accepting people as they truly are. It is looking beyond physical appearances to attributes that will not dim through time. It is resisting the impulse to categorize others.

So when God says "except men shall have charity they cannot inherit that place which thou hast prepared in the mansions of thy Father" (Ether chapter 12) He's not saying that to be cute or poetic. And when Christ chose to strike the nerve of hatred between two nations and cultures He wasn't merely trying to be inflammatory. Both Christ and God are warning us that unless we get a handle on this principle of charity we all face together a very negative future.

Makes me think of another quote from Martin Luther King:
We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.

Martin Luther King also gave, what I consider, one of the best sermons on the topic of love in his inspired speech "Loving Your Enemies". Seriously, if you have an hour or two to spare, this sermon will change your entire perspective on the role of love and charity in the destiny of man. Speaking about Christ's command to "love your enemies" he says:

Now let me hasten to say that Jesus was very serious when he gave this command; he wasn’t playing. He realized that it’s hard to love your enemies. He realized that it’s difficult to love those persons who seek to defeat you, those persons who say evil things about you. He realized that it was painfully hard, pressingly hard. But he wasn’t playing. And we cannot dismiss this passage as just another example of Oriental hyperbole, just a sort of exaggeration to get over the point. This is a basic philosophy of all that we hear coming from the lips of our Master. Because Jesus wasn’t playing; because he was serious. We have the Christian and moral responsibility to seek to discover the meaning of these words, and to discover how we can live out this command, and why we should live by this command.

So coming back to Ether chapter 12, we can see that the warning that we must have charity is not merely a platitude, but a divine truth on what is ultimately what will determine our eternal destiny individually and the destiny of man here on Earth.